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Comedians Aren’t ‘Just Joking’ In Chilling New PSA By Sandy Hook Promise



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As the US surpasses 240 school shootings in 2023, setting the stage for a record-breaking year of gun violence in schools, Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) this week launched “Just Joking,” its latest public service announcement (PSA) to underscore how important it is to take threats of gun violence seriously.

Sandy Hook Promise uses the Gun Violence Archive of school shootings, where four or more people are killed or injured, not including the shooter.

The PSA features a lineup of renowned comedians — including Billy Eichner, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Jay Pharoah, Roy Wood Jr, Caitlin Reilly, David Cross, Iliza Shlesinger and Rachel Bloom — who lend their wit to deliver a sobering message: Threats are not jokes. If you see a warning sign of violence, always say something.

In the PSA, released September 28, audience members assume that comedians are performing regular stand-up routines and “Just Joking.” It is later revealed that what the audience thought were punch lines were actually all real threats made by school shooters across the country — including the shooter at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, who said “I’m going to shoot up an elementary school right now,” and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter in Parkland, Fla., who said, “I want to kill people,” and several more across the country.

The chilling realization that the comedians were not “Just Joking” wakes viewers up to the importance of taking all threats seriously and taking action when there are warning signs of violence.

Since its inception in the wake of 12/14, Sandy Hook Promise has been at the forefront of developing a comprehensive, upstream approach to prevent gun violence, focusing on community-based education and empowerment.

SHP’s innovative Know the Signs programs effectively teach youth and adults how to prevent school violence, shootings, and other harmful acts. Programming has been implemented in over 26,000 schools across the country, providing students and adults with the tools necessary to identify and report concerning behaviors. Through the new PSA, Sandy Hook Promise plans to reach an even wider audience with the lifesaving “know the signs” message.

Nicole Hockley, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise, and mother of Dylan, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, says that as this country is on track to have its deadliest year yet, the urgency to protect children from gun violence is stronger than ever.

“Even if it seems small — or like a joke — recognizing and reporting a potential threat of violence can have massive, life-saving impact,” Hockley said. “We can all do more to learn about the warning signs of violence and take action immediately when we see them.”

Sandy Hook Promise partnered with BBDO New York to produce the video, as with its previous PSAs, including the Emmy Award-winning “Teenage Dream” and “Back-to-School Essentials,” as well as the Emmy-nominated “Point of View,” and multiple award-winning “Evan.”

SHP also partnered again with SMUGGLER, a commercial, documentary, film and theater production company and with award-winning director Henry-Alex Rubin.

To date, SHP’s PSAs have won a combined 22 prestigious Cannes Lion awards and over 300 other industry awards.

Comedian and actress Iliza Shlesinger, who is featured in the new PSA, said gun violence has become “this accepted plague on our American communities.” Shlesinger wanted to do something “visible and positive,” she added.

“Since participating in [the PSA] I have become more active in gun violence prevention — it can be as little as being vocal about it, calling your lawmakers or just voting. But we can’t allow this to become ‘just the way it is,’” she added. “And the fact that parents of the victims of Sandy Hook produced this, in all of their pain and suffering, means other people can do something proactive as well.”

To date, 21 million people nationwide have participated in Sandy Hook Promise’s lifesaving Know the Signs programs that focus on violence prevention by teaching youth and adults how to recognize warning signs of potential violence and get help. As a result, the organization says, SHP has averted at least 15 credible planned school shooting attacks, prevented 185 attempts of violence with a weapon, and saved more than 500 lives through crisis intervention. The Know the Signs programs are available to every school and youth organization at no cost.

To watch the “Just Joking” PSA and learn more about Sandy Hook Promise’s mission and programs, visit sandyhookpromise.org/psa.

Comedians including (clockwise from upper left) Margaret Cho, Billy Eichner, Caitlin Reilly, Jay Pharoah, David Cross, and Wanda Sykes are all featured in the new public service announcement from Sandy Hook Promise. “Just Joking” underscores the importance of taking threats of gun violence seriously. —image courtesy Weber Shandwick
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